Theme music. It lets you know a show is starting and sets the tone of the program. And it can do more, such as affect the listener in ways beyond entertainment.
You’ve probably sung catchy theme songs such as the one from Coupling — “… But please don’t tell me perhaps, perhaps, perhaps”), but have you ever noticed feelings and sensations come up when you hear instrumental or mostly-instrumental theme music?
I hadn’t thought about it until I became conscious of the ways my body reacted and the feelings that arose when I heard particular pieces.
For example, a few nights ago I watched three episodes of Hamish Macbeth and I realized that I had the same response upon hearing the first notes during the opening credits as I did when I first saw the first episode a year or so ago: I felt a tingling sensation around my neck that spread to the top of my head and down to my knees, and as the music crescendoed, it vibrated in my chest, and it felt like every hair was standing on end. In a good way.
It’s atypical for me to have such a visceral response to theme music, but there’s something about the nature of this piece — the upbeat tempo, the layers of instrumentation, the dramatic passage leading into the coda — that electrifies me. Perhaps, on a subconscious level, it stirs my longtime desire to live in Scotland. Or, if there is such a thing as past lives, maybe it’s music that is hearkening me “home” in another time. Take a listen and see if your body reacts to it, too.
The same music plays during the closing credits, and I actually read them during my last viewing and saw that music credits go to Scottish composer John Lunn. When I looked him up on imdb, I learned that he also created music for many other British TV shows and movies, a few of which are on my lists of favorites.
One of them is Downton Abbey. I find the theme music to be deep, rich, and haunting. It, too, causes a shiver from head to toe, a sensation that evokes feelings of longing and tinges of sadness, like something desired is in sight but just out of reach. Does this music stir something within you the way it does me?
Another of my favorite John-Lunn-theme-music shows is Hotel Babylon. I find the intro music to be sensual, sexy, flirty, alluring, beckoning, enticing… like the show itself. And the tingling elicited here is electric as well, but of an altogether different sort that courses through my whole body. (Ahem.) How about you?
I don’t know what makes a composer a great one or even a good one, except in how his or her music resonates with me. With regard to John Lunn, I’m familiar with a fair amount of his work given the shows I’ve watched, and for me, the three pieces mentioned here are stand-outs because they are compelling on so many levels.
If you haven’t seen one of more of these programs, I hope you’ve gotten a sense of them through their theme music and that you’ll take the opportunity to watch them when you can, because there is much to enjoy with each of them.